When ‘good’ is not good enough

It takes just one ordinary ACR to spoil the career of a bright officer. A fresh look needs to be taken at the ACR system

GN Bureau | August 1, 2017


#ACR   #bureaucracy   #government  
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)
(Illustration: Ashish Asthana)

A single adverse entry in the annual confidential report (ACR) of a government official can be enough to ruin a promising career. Many officials decide to take premature retirement as their chances of promotion are scuttled when they get a ‘good’ instead of a ‘very good’ assessment in the ACR.
 
But, the latest case puts a question mark on the system of ACRs that were introduced in the 1940s.
 
The principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has ruled against a vice admiral, who was accused of favouring his son-in-law while downgrading other officers in their ACRs. The bench also ordered Vice Admiral P K Chatterjee to pay Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the petitioner, Commander S S Luthra, who has since retired, reported Indian Express.
 
The Central Information Commission has noted that the ACR system that was in vogue since British rule “makes the bosses super powers and subjugates the subordinate officers into slaves totally depending on the mercy of the superior officers”.
 
“They are also kept in dark about what remarks were made against them. There was no chance of correction or review or appeal,” it said
 
In fact, an office memorandum dated September 21, 2007 of the department of personnel and training said, with regard to RTI, that the public authority is not under obligation to disclose ACRs of any employee to the employee himself or to any other person in as much as disclosure of ACRs is protected by clause (j) of sub section (l) of Section 8 of the RTI Act; and an ACR is a confidential document, disclosure of which is protected Official Secrets Act, 1923.
 
Aggrieved officials have been forced to move court after being poorly appraised.
 
On May 12, 2008, the supreme court passed an order in the case of an official who did not have ‘very good’ entry but only ‘good entry’ for the year 1993-94 and he was not considered for the promotion to the post of superintending engineer.
 
“In our opinion, the 'good' entry should have been communicated to the appellant so as to enable him to make a representation praying that the said entry for the year 1993-94 should be upgraded from 'good' to 'very good'. Of course, after considering such a representation it was open to the authority concerned to reject the representation and confirm the 'good' entry (though of course in a fair manner), but at least an opportunity of making such a representation should have been given to the appellant, and that would only have been possible had the appellant been communicated the 'good' entry, which was not done in this case. Hence, we are of the opinion that the non-communication of the 'good' entry was arbitrary and hence illegal, and the decisions relied upon by the learned counsel for the respondent are distinguishable,” the apex court said in Dev Dutt vs Union Of India & Ors. 
 
“In our opinion, every entry in the Annual Confidential Report of every employee under the State, whether he is in civil, judicial, police or other service (except the military) must be communicated to him, so as to enable him to make a representation against it, because non-communication deprives the employee of the opportunity of making a representation against it which may affect his chances of being promoted (or get some other benefits),” the court added.
 
In Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India, the supreme court on January 25, 1978 had also made it clear: “It is one of the fundamental rules of our constitutional set-up that every citizen is protected against exercise of arbitrary authority by the state or its officers.  Duty to act judicially would, therefore arise from the very nature of the function intended to be performed, it need not be shown to be super-added. If there is power to decide and determine to the prejudice of a person, duty to act judicially is implicit in the exercise of such power. If the essentials of justice be ignored and an order to the prejudice of a person is made, the order is a nullity. That is a basic concept of the rule of law and importance thereof transcends the significance of a decision in any particular case.”
 
Incidentally, a study of the government appraisal system in Gujarat had shown the challenges in the ACR system.
 
“The five features of the effective appraisal system studied in the current research (purpose, source, feedback quality, link of ACR system with other HRM (human resource management) functions, and administrative effectiveness) indicate that the overall appraisal system is ineffective. The overall appraisal system was perceived to be subjective and one directional in character by the study respondents. Furthermore, respondents perceived the appraisal system to be a ritual and where MOs (medical officers) hardly got to know about their performance, especially good performance. Hence, the feedback loop, an important feature for an effective appraisal system, was absent. The overall ACR system functions in isolation with no link to other HRM functions such as training and counselling, and a weak link with salary administration and promotion,” said the study
 
The National Judicial Academy has observed after going through all the related documents on Annual Confidential Reports, the major problem being discussed in this area is while filling up ACRs of the officer only those remarks are being communicated to them which are adverse in nature.
 
“There is a need for the communication of all kind of remarks because that might affect the concerned officer’s promotion in his office in some way or the other,” it said.
 
“Any entry recorded as 'good' must be communicated to the appellant and an opportunity to make representation for upgrading the same must be given to him. The principle of natural justice met only when entries in ACR of public servant is communicated to him with a right to make representation for upgrading of the same. Therefore, it is important that there should be timely communication of remarks of ACRs so that the officers are given this opportunity to improve their remarks and would not face such problems in their employment,” said the NJA report. 
 
 
 

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